I have recently read Dr. Akbar Ali Khan's two books. "পরার্থপরতার অর্থনীতি" (Porathoporotar Aurthoniiti) was first published in August 2000 and "আজব ও জবর-আজব অর্থনীতি" (Ajob O Jobor Ajob Aurthoniiti) was first published in January 2013. In that sense it took me quite a while to get hold of these books and read them. First time I heard about Dr. Akbar Ali Khan was around 2007 when he became one of the adviser form the care-taker government of Bangladesh. From the interviews I saw that time, he came across as a very learned and candid person with very little to none ulterior motives. He appears to be one of the rare breed among the intellectuals of Bangladesh who really knows what he is talking about and also cultivates an immense curiosity about things happening around the world.
From reading both the books, my impression about him is that he has an international perspective about economics but also has a deep knowledge about how things work in Bangladesh. In "পরার্থপরতার অর্থনীতি", there are 15 essays. Each of them has an international aspect but most of them also has ideas and discussions involving economic behavior of people of Bangladesh. For the last five years, I have been listening to Econ Talk and so I was familiar with some of the ideas but it was fascinating to see how those ideas can be explained using Bangladesh as a context.
The title essay talks about how just giving money to poor does not really solves the problem of poverty but just helps to increase the feel-good feeling of the people who are giving money. This is something I have been hearing over and over for the last couple of years. I kept hearing on Econ Talk how a lot of economic policies are filled with unintended consequences and misplaced optimism. Dr. Khan reiterates that over and over. He also shared his personal experiences where his good intentions had unintended consequences. There was an essay on healthcare where he discusses the healthcare sector of United States and Bangladesh. He was pretty much on-point about various issues but like other economists, he also does not have a concrete solution.
The ideas discussed in the essay about education and economic inequality resonated very much with me. I am deeply uncomfortable with the increase of cost for college education in US and I feel part of the reason for this is that educational institutions are prioritizing everything else over education itself. Unless this is addressed, the continued investment in education is just going to increase the economic inequality. Again, here he also talks about signaling, which I have heard at Econ Talk.
Like Russ Roberts, Dr. Khan also thinks global trade is not an evil necessarily. He agrees that there are issues that need to be fixed but overall it has been beneficial to human civilization.
The first essay in "আজব ও জবর-আজব অর্থনীতি" discusses ideas from Freakonomics and Superfreakomics. Again, from being an avid listener of the Frekonomics podcast, I am familiar with some of the ideas. But what surprised me was someone like Dr. Khan was also staying on top with these ideas was very much aware of what was going on in the academic world of ecomincs. This is the most surprising discovery about Mr. Khan by me. From my limited experience, I have seen that most bureaucrats in Bangladesh are not interested in learning things once they are formally done with school. This is why most part of Bangladesh bureaucracy is stuck with centuries-old ideas and practices. So when I found a rare exception, I was amazed. His pursuit of learning and staying current on all the things happening in the world of economics just blew my mind. I hope there are younger generation in Bangladesh who are following his lead.
In the essays of "আজব ও জবর-আজব অর্থনীতি", he blends economic ideas with examples from Bangladesh. The example of shallow tubewell in the essay about friendly fire was a good one. I have heard a lot of these economic ideas but this is the first time I experienced them through the lens of Bangladesh's economy. Another thing I enjoyed is the usage of Bangla terms. I have probably never came across a technical book with such a easy-flowing use of Bangla. Dr. Khan is aware that in Bangladesh, the topics of economics are still limited to some very old ideas and politics of left and right. He is correct to point out that more modern things have happened and is willing to make an introduction to them for Bengali readers.
I also liked his dislike for econometrics. Too many times, people have fall for that and used it willy-nilly to explain the economic behavior of human. But in reality it is much more complex to be explained completely by mathematical models.
I enjoyed a lot while reading the books specially when I found synnergies between ideas that I have been hearing in economics podcasts for the last couple of years and the ideas Dr. Khan talks about. I hope young people in Bangladesh will pick up these two books and develop a taste for economics.Published at: 04/18/2020